We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10. Australia, the other English speaking country. The one that doesn't have Shakespeare, Hollywood or Peter Jackson. It's so easy to forget about, until you remember it's the land of Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush and Mel Gibson. Not to mention Baz Luhrmann, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman who want to give you a big fat jolt of memory with the release of Australia. Expect something big, flashy and hella sexy.
Until then, here's a list of my favorite movies from the land down under. I have a few rules, a movie has to be directed, acted in, and financed primarily in and by Australians. That means no Moulin Rouge, though it was shot in Australia by an Aussie director and star, it was financed in Hollywood and Kidman spoke with an American accent. No Walkabout either, though the subject is Australia, it's made by a British filmmaker with a mainly English cast. So here we go.
7. Gallipoli (1981) Recap: Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel GIbson) are sprinters in Western Australia turned best friends who enlist in the army during WWI. Eventually they are sent to Gallipoli where they are routed by the Turks in a controversial battle with a climactic finale. Reason: Peter Weir is one of the best directors to come out of Australia and this is his best film. The film focuses primarily on the relationship between the two friends and builds so slowly that you don't see the final tragic battle scene coming until it is too late. The devastating conclusion reinforces the impact of the film.
6. Muriel's Wedding (1994) Recap: Muriel (Toni Collette), an Abba loving ugly duckling, doesn't fit in in her town or among her family. But after running into Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), an old friend, while on vacation, she embarks on a new life and becomes the woman she thought she wanted to be. Reason: Muriel's Wedding tells an old story and makes it new again in surprising ways. P.J. Hogan directs with lots of love for his strange crew, Muriel's gauche, nouveau middle class family members and overly made up peers as well as his misguided but impassioned heroine. But it's the life that Toni Collette breathes into Muriel that makes her incredibly relatable, despite the array of strange choices she makes. On a personal note, I discovered Abba via the soundtrack. What's not to love?
5. Strictly Ballroom (1992) Recap: Speaking of Baz Luhrmann, his debut film was this ugly duckling story of ordinary girl-with-glasses Fran (Tara Morice) who gets picked to join ballroom would-be-champion Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) after his former partner runs off with a rival. Soon they're falling in love with one another and the Paso Double. Reason: A combination of Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, Strictly Ballroom teems with over the top characters. Luhrmann directs with style and takes on the world of Ballroom dance with verve. But the heart of the movie is the affair between the central characters on the dance floor and it sparkles.
4. Romper Stomper (1992) Recap: Hando (Russell Crowe) and Davey (Daniel Pollock) f**k sh*t up as skinheads in Melborne who enter into battle with the Vietnamese community while fighting over the love of a rich girl doing some slumming (Jacqueline McKenzie). Reason: This movie is an acting tour de force. Despite, or maybe because of the black and white, all I could focus on was the intensity of the actors. If you think Crowe was the focus of my fawning, you'd be wrong. Daniel Pollock, in his only major film role, is the passionate heart and soul of this movie, torn between his best friend and the girl he yearns for who may be incapable of love.
3. The Road Warrior (1981) Recap:Mad Max (Mel Gibson) just can't get over that whole, wife and son being murdered by crazy post-apocalyptic gang thing. He searches for fuel, water and justice, meting out a little of all three as he goes along. Reason: No one plays crazy/likable like Mel Gibson. The Road Warrior not only jump-started his career but laid the groundwork for any other films set after the bomb. Where would Terminator be without this nuked out Australia? The original Mad Max was too brutal, Beyond Thunderdome is too kitschy (though I love "Two men enter, one man leaves!") but this entry into the Mad Max franchise is just right.
2. Dead Calm (1989) Recap:John (Sam Neill) and Rae (Nicole Kidman) spend some time on their yacht, alone after the death of their son. They rescue a man (Billy Zane) from a sinking ship who claims to be the only survivor of a onboard disaster. John discovers that this may be a lie and suspects the castaway of murder, leading to an intense battle for life, alone in the middle of the ocean. Reason:I would be hard pressed to think of a recent thriller from any country as good as Dead Calm. Director Phillip Noyce almost sadistically ratchets up the tension until it's nearly unbearable. Each of the three leads gives an excellent performance. I love Hitchcock's films, and I would say this one is right up there with them for terrifying suspense.
1. Babe (1995) Recap: Babe, a pig, is born the runt of his litter. Instead of being fattened up on the pig farm, he's won by Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell), a kind sheep farmer, and taken to live on his farm. His good nature and charm ingratiate him with the various animals on the farm, including the farmer, and he eventually trains to become a sheep herding pig. Despite the ridicules both Farmer Hoggett and Babe receive, they enter the annual sheep herding trials and prevail, through the love for one another, and the respect the other animals feel toward Babe. Reason: I don't like talking animal movies unless they're animated. The CG usually looks unnatural and there tend to be a lot of unnecessary poop jokes. Babe is not like that. Somehow it's funny without being cruel, and sweet without being maudlin. Cromwell gives an excellent performance as a man of few words and a kind heart. Few films seem to be made for children and adults, even fewer succeed at entertaining and working as art. Babe manages to do all of these things, well. That'll do pig, that'll do.
There’s the Top 7, now what should be in the Top 10?